Shelf Defense: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker, Great Granny Webster

In late 2011 I decided, in the hopes of keeping my library down to a manageable size, to comb through the unread sections in alphabetical order. It was a naïve, Sisyphean project, and it will take forever—so I’d better get moving. Shelf Defense is my occasional notebook about what I dig up, from Alphabet Juice to Point Omega.

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OTTO BINDER, THE AVENGERS BATTLE THE EARTH-WRECKER (1967)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Because my friend Cam gives me birthday presents unearthed from the depths of his parents’ basement, and I am very grateful for this.

THOUGHTS: It’s great! (With a big asterisk next to the “great”!)

"So what are we waiting for?" demanded Goliath. "We go to Mount Everest, lick Karzz [the Conqueror], wreck his magnet, and stop the comet. Simple as ABC."

"Yes, except for D through Z," warned Iron Man, "which will be all the unknown superscience tricks he may still have up his sleeve. It’ll be tough, with a capital T."

Also—somehow—it features a different team of Avengers than the one shown on the cover. Buyer beware: there’s nary a Quicksilver or Scarlet Witch to be found.

KEEP OR SELL: Sell.

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CAROLINE BLACKWOOD, GREAT GRANNY WEBSTER (1977)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Because it’s put out by the NYRB.

THOUGHTS: This probably isn’t news to anyone, but I’m once again amazed at how good NYRB is at finding and resurrecting such propulsive, weird, intensely voice-driven novels. Great Granny Webster is only 35 years old, but feels like a long-lost relic. It follows its own unpredictable rhythms, and foregoes A-to-B plot in favour of a litany of anecdotes and unsavoury personal details, all filtered through a lens of aristocratic hubris. Even the title is a great little feint, as Blackwood uses the titular granny as a launchpad for showcasing the strange lives of several Webster family members, each of whom has a theory about why the young narrator’s father spent so much time visiting his horrid grandmother during World War II. It’s very short, and doesn’t ultimately take aim at all that much, but every hit lands cleanly. One reviewer called it “a box of chocolates with amphetamine centres,” and, well, I don’t think I can say it any better than that.

(Note: It’s not included above because I bought it after taking this picture, which, yes, kind of defeats the purpose of this project. Shush, you.)

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

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